In this age of multiculturalism and sensitivity, there is one bigotry still tolerated: anti-Catholicism. As Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., Peter Viereck, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan have all observed, anti-Catholicism remains our nation’s deepest bias, and the only one found respectable by intellectuals.
The anti-Catholicism that marked our nation’s founding was directed at both individual Catholics and the institutional Church. Somewhat later, it became colored by an anti-Irish impulse; later still, anti-Irish sentiments gave way to bigotry against Eastern and Southern Europeans, most of whom were Catholic. And, of course, there was always the nativistic element expressed by the Know-Nothing Party and the Ku Klux Klan; their fondness for Catholics is well known.
Today’s anti-Catholicism looks different but still bears that same odor: there is something basically un-American about the Catholic Church. Indeed, in a survey in the mid-90’s commissioned by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, anti-Catholicism was found to be the nation’s leading prejudice. To be specific, the sneaking suspicion that Catholics are trying to impose their views on society elevated anti-Catholicism to the top of the charts. Incidentally, the authors of the report never flagged this result but merely made a quiet notation of the conclusion.
Contemporary expressions of Catholic-bashing involve such serious issues as bugging a priest in the confessional, forcibly removing ashes from an employee’s forehead on Ash Wednesday, beheading statues of Our Blessed Mother, villianizing Catholics for religious reasons (á la Louis Farrakhan), and displaying anti-Catholic art so vulgar and blasphemous that only a college campus would allow it. The role of the media should also not be discounted. Just consider the work of Disney, and of its subsidiary, ABC.
The 1997 fall lineup for ABC included Nothing Sacred, a program of pure propaganda that depicts a politically correct priest, Father Ray. This priest doubts the existence of God, thinks of his vocation as merely a “job,” violates his duties as a confessor, and instructs the faithful to disobey the Church’s teachings on sexuality. But in the end Father Ray is really a good guy: unlike his heartless parishioners who are upset with the homeless for urinating in front of their church (they are heartless because they are loyal to the Church), Father Ray maintains his compassion. He operates a soup kitchen.
As we go to press, the Catholic League has mailed to Michael Eisner, chairman of Disney, the names of 500,000 persons who have signed a petition protesting the show and demanding its termination. Moreover, 20 companies—among them K-Mart, Ocean Spray, DuPont, Red Lobster, Benckiser, American Isuzu, AT&T, Sears, and Montgomery Ward—have all canceled their sponsorship of the show. Nor has the crusade against the program been an exclusively Catholic affair. Without solicitation, Protestant churches have made the petition available to their parishioners, and Jews and Muslims have also supported the drive. What the faithful of all stripes realize is that more is at stake than just a show that pushes the envelope against Catholics.
ABC’s anti-Catholic bias was especially evident in its coverage of the funeral Mass for Mother Teresa. Anchor Peter Jennings allow ed Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair and the Nation to rant and rave about Mother Teresa’s alleged “false humility” and “rabid fundamentalism.” Mother Teresa had one person who hated her, and the Disney-owned network found room for him to vent.
Hitchens is a notorious critic of Catholicism and the author of a slim book on Mother Teresa—infamous for its obscene title, absence of citations, and its hate-filled commentary. ABC was certainly well aware of all this when it invited him to speak, and to allow him to continue his diatribe against Mother Teresa during Holy Communion was unconscionable. Princess Diana had many detractors, yet none surfaced on television during the young woman’s funeral.
Compare ABC’s actions with those of NBC. When the latter’s Meet the Press invited Hitchens to comment on the British royal family on September 7, it did not allow him to stay for the next segment on Mother Teresa; anchor Tim Russert handled the situation with professionalism.
Besides these more flagrant attempts to bash Catholicism, there is an underground current of anti-Catholicism that finds its way into virtually every nook and cranny of our society; its subtlety may be its most demonic element. Filmmakers are especially culpable. The recent remake of The Smut does not overtly deal with Roman Catholicism, yet it opens with a vicious portrayal of a Catholic priest. The movie Face/Off also has nothing to do with Catholicism, but it begins with a man dressed as a priest who dances like a stripper and then gropes a choirgirl; the film ends with a huge shoot-out in a Catholic church.
We are often told that Jenny McCarthy went to Catholic school. Why? Because her claim to fame is that she is a former Playmate of the Year and a host on MTV. In a news story regarding a wild night at a Nebraska nightclub, the reporter dutifully tells us that some of the young kids were Catholic. No doubt they were. A California newspaper was just as vigilant when it reported that a person involved in a car crash had “a sticker of the Virgin Mary on the steering wheel.”
A major newsweekly recently ran a piece on delinquents which mentioned that, in one particular case, the kids went to Catholic schools; we can only guess where the other thugs went. An Oregon newspaper published a front-page story, complete with color photos, of a young Hispanic girl in her first Communion dress. The text of the story claimed that Holy Communion initiates Catholic children into “a culture of selflessness and devotion that, in some children, discourages individual striving,” and concludes that “the results can be disastrous to education.” One might reply that results like this can be disastrous to journalism, and to common sense as well.
Last May, two 15-year-olds, a boy and a girl, were arrested for the Central Park murder of a Manhattan man. The boy was described in the media as “an ex-altar boy,” and the girl as having attended a Catholic school “run by the Jesuits.” At the time of their arrest, both attended expensive preppy nonsectarian schools, but that did not matter: what mattered was the Catholic connection, however old. Had the boy been bar-mitzvahed, his former status would never have been noted and revealed.
James Hamilton of the New York Observer took a picture of Barbara Foster sitting on the lap of her husband, Michael. What was unusual about the picture was a) Mike’s sex-mate and girlfriend, Letha Hadady, was standing next to the Fosters; and b) in the midst of the happy threesome was a prominent picture of the Madonna. The news story made it clear that the lovers were all Jewish, and so I called Mr. Hamilton for an explanation of the picture of Mary: he said it was just coincidental.
When an abortion clinic in Virginia was bombed last February, WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., reported that the clinic was “down the street from a Catholic church.” It was. It was also across the street from a palm reader’s office, though that was not mentioned. Speaking of abortion clinics, why did the press constantly tell us that John Salvi, the deranged young man who went on a killing spree in two abortion clinics, was “obsessed” with Catholicism? How are these things measured, and why is Jack Kevorkian never described as “obsessed” with atheism?
The cover of the July issue of the Texas Monthly reads: “Abilene’s House of Yahweh believes . . . Satan is a woman, the Pope is her puppet, and the world will end in three years.” The story inside has nothing to do with any of this. Now, Catholics expect to be bashed in overtly anti-Catholic publications, such as those of Jack Chick. But in dog magazines? Yet that is exactly what happened when the American Cocker gave space to J. Michael Asbill. Mr. Asbill tells us that the reason the Church is against contraception is because it limits “the creation of more Catholics”; he also reveals how filthy rich the Catholic Church is. All this squeezed in between articles on dog breeding!
Moving up a notch, the New Yorker published an inane piece by Frank Gannon on “Pope Mobility.” His attempt at satire is studded with such gems as “When you are infallible in the area of faith, you know how to pick an automobile,” and “What does luxury mean to a man who decides what’s right and wrong for most of the civilized world?” A question for Mr. Gannon: What is the purpose of saying “most”? And who is he to say that the uncivilized world within which he lives is not also under the tutelage of the Holy Father?
“They were few, lamentably few. A half-century ago, while their neighbors drew the shades and closed their ears, these few could not ignore what was happening to the Jews. They could not ignore the moral message of their Catholic faith.” This is how the Washington Post opened a story on the honors that the U.S. Holocaust Museum bestowed on Catholics who rescued Jews during the holocaust. Naturally, Pius XII was noted for doing next to nothing to help the Jews, though at the time he received kudos from the World Jewish Congress, Golda Meir, Albert Einstein, Pinchas Lapide, the New York Times, and scores of others in the Jewish community (the chief rabbi in Rome even converted to Catholicism after the war and took the Pope’s name as his baptismal name).
Professor Alfie Kohn does not like character education. In a piece for the Phi Delta Kappan, Kohn opines that “it is of no relevance that almost all of the leading proponents of character education are devout Catholics.” Obviously this is not true, otherwise Kohn would not have mentioned it (and how does he measure devoutness—couldn’t some of these guys be fakers?). Then he unloads with the clincher: “But it is entirely relevant that, in the shadows of their writings, there lurks the assumption that only religion can serve as the foundation of good character.” Good going, Alfie, you nailed those Catholics and managed to keep your hands clean at the same time.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is generally known for its insanity, not its bigotry. But it proved its multiple skills when it took on Boys Town for experimenting with cats. Despite the fact that the National Institutes of Health found no merit whatsoever to the charge of animal abuse, PETA kept charging away. Worse, it alleged that Father Flanagan’s famous home was also a den of pedophilia. After Boys Town and the Catholic League confronted PETA, it backed away from those charges, though it never had the decency to issue a public apology or to admit the truth about Boys I’own’s good record.
Chicago has a new nightclub called the “Convent.” There are bartenders dressed as priests, waitresses dressed as Catholic schoolgirls, drinks called “Holy Water,” and a “Hell Room” that sports a mirrored crucifix. The owners, two sisters from India, claim their gay establishment is not anti-Catholic.
When Dr. M.R.C. Greenwood was installed as the new chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz, the school embarked upon the customary binge of celebrations fit for a queen. For one month, the campus was alive with tributes to women of color, Jews, gays. Native Americans, Indonesians, Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, and Filipinos. Indeed, a memorial prayer and meditation service for Jews was allowed at this state school. And for Catholics? They were treated to “Sisters of the Visitation,” a play about a reckless young man and his servant who sneak into a convent dressed as a priest and nun, have secret trysts, and engage in “a hilarious comedy of errors as well as revelations about secret goings-on within the convent.” This is what passes for diversity these days on college campuses.
When the Heaven’s Gate cult was exposed, so was the take that many in the media have on religion. On Nightline, pictures of the Vatican were shown while introducing the subject of religious cults. On talk radio, Ron Kuby, who assisted the late William Kunstier, said there was no difference between believing that a spaceship was coming to save cult members and believing in the Immaculate Conception. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz contrasted the cult’s beliefs with a belief in angels. Best of all, however, was a cartoon concerning the cult that appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
The cartoon showed a man clearly dressed as a Catholic priest who, while standing next to a coffin, invites everyone to a memorial service at a launch pad. I wrote to the paper and asked them to explain why a Catholic priest, as opposed to a Jewish rabbi or a Buddhist monk, was chosen to establish the link between the crazy cult and religion. I was told that “the minister” was “meant to be generic.” Now it beats me how this priest suddenly became a generic minister, but that is probably due to the fact that I have yet to meet any “generic” ministers. Now that I know what they look like, I’m even more confused than before. Should I ever meet one, how will I know he is not a Catholic priest?
A similar situation occurred when I complained to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about gratuitously mentioning a priest who accidentally struck a girl with his car. I was told there was nothing to my concerns since the priest was an Episcopalian.
Why the cheap shots and what effect do they have? The Catholic Church is seen by today’s elites as an antiquated, authoritarian, sexually repressive, imperialistic institution. Hence, the steady stream of cheap shots that occur on Saturday Night Live, in MAD magazine, on the Howard Stern show, and in countless other places. It is all about power, the power to chip away at the moral authority of the Catholic Church. Liberty without limits has already proven to be as false as it is deadly, but some people never learn.
It is not going to get much better, not for some time. The leading bigots are mostly decision-makers in our culture, and they do not see themselves as tainted with bias. The Church is not going to make the kinds of changes that Catholic malcontents want, and it surely is not going to do anything to please the bigots. But the smart money will bet on the Church—it has a track record for surviving and thriving that no other institution can match.